The Value of Caregiving

A few days ago, I was reading about ‘the baby penalty’ for women in academic careers. The article talks about how women who have babies early in their university careers are more likely to take second-tier and lower-paying positions (adjuncts or part time teaching positions at universities) or completely leave the academy. The article presents this as something to fix—which, of course, it is.

But what if, instead of approaching this as a problem of why women are pushed away from paying careers, we approach it as a problem of why men are pushed away from caregiving? Instead of ‘women are prioritizing caregiving over careers’, we say ‘men are prioritizing careers over caregiving’? After all, sitting on your deathbed, are you going to say ‘I really wished I worked more on Sundays,’ or are you going to say ‘I wish I spent as much time as possible with my kids’?

Maybe this is semantics, but it was a little thought that kept niggling away in my mind as I read the article. Perhaps because I was the ‘problem’ that this article is trying to address. I am a mother, young in my university career, who finds herself more and more drawn away from a career in a university and more and more towards caregiving (happily).

I’m hesitant to even publish this, because I don’t want to undermine women who do value careers and want to dedicate their time to that. That’s badass and awesome, and women often face enormous struggles when they are dedicated to their careers. I say this coming from a home where my mother was the primary breadwinner and my father was the one waiting for us at home when we got off the bus. He always worked when we were kids, but he also dedicated much of his time to caregiving (Do you agree, mom & dad? Lol—LOVE YOU). I am really proud of that fact.

The point is: caregiving is systemically under-esteemed in our society, and men are pushed away from it because of that. As a traditionally feminine undertaking, caregiving is chronically underpaid and undervalued (think teachers, early childhood educators, nursing home staff, stay-at-home parent etc.). Some may even think that full-time caregiving is not contributing to society (think of criticisms of stay-at-parents—‘what do they even do all day?’).

Despite that, I do believe that having deep, personal, loving connections is the meaning behind this thing called life. And caregiving facilitates that. I feel sad for men that are denied the opportunity to invest their time and emotional energy into caregiving because of the capitalist pull towards paid work. Obviously, there are some practical components to this:

  1. Households need money to survive, and caregiving is either not paid at all or paid very poorly.
  2. Some people don’t actually like caregiving. It’s a grinding at times (though joyful at others).

But still, if A were to call us in 30 years and say he was going to be a stay-at-home parent, I would not only be thrilled for him but proud of him as well.